I Lived Under A Dictatorship. I Know What’s At Stake For This Country

As a Chinese immigrant, I want to make sure I use my right to free speech

Anjali Enjeti
ZORA
Published in
4 min readOct 23, 2020

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Colorful mural by BiLan, shows BiLan in the center with anti-Trump protestors in foreground.
Mural by BiLan Liao.

Ever since she became a U.S. citizen, BiLan Liao, a painter and retired art professor who immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1999, has taken elections very seriously. She began voting shortly after she became a citizen in 2004.

After spending several years in the midwest and Kentucky, she and her husband moved just northeast of Atlanta to Gwinnett County, Georgia, one of the most diverse counties in the U.S. It is there where she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. When Donald Trump won, Liao was terrified. She worried about the kinds of policies he would enact during his term and felt she had to do something. In January, Liao hopped on a bus to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., to protest his win and at that moment decided to center activism in her life.

BiLan in front of a “Vote Here” sign. She is wearing a black face mask.
Photo courtesy of Ken Scroggs.

Today, Liao is chairwoman of the Georgia chapter of Chinese Americans for Biden and a member of the Georgia AAPI Biden Harris Leadership Council. She is the author of a book of paintings titled Diary of a Dragon’s Daughter: Painting as a Window into Chinese History, which tells the story of five generations of women in her family. Early this year, she painted “America Divided,” which depicts how the Trump administration is destroying democracy in the U.S.

Liao has been working around the clock to speak out about injustice and turn out the vote in the Democratic Chinese American community. She has attended Black Lives Matter protests and sign-waving rallies, helped voters get registered, and designed campaign signs in her native language, Mandarin. She cast her vote in the presidential election on the first day of early voting, October 12, after standing in a long line. For Liao, waiting to vote was worth every minute.

The story that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

It is always exciting for me to vote in the United States. In China, we don’t have elections by the people. I believe in freedom of…

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Anjali Enjeti
ZORA
Writer for

Journalist, critic & columnist at ZORA. Essay collection SOUTHBOUND (UGA Press) & debut novel THE PARTED EARTH (Hub City Press), spring ’21. anjalienjeti.com.